Known as The Quarterdeck of the Navy, Great Lakes Naval Training Center, in Waukegan, Illinois, is the Navy’s only basic training facility. Affectionately called Great Mistakes[i] by many who have passed through its gates, Recruit Training Command (RTC) is where recruits begin their Navy experience. They learn about naval history; become aware of a sailor’s standards of conduct and rights & responsibilities; become physically and fundamentally strong in the lifestyle of a sailor. After this indoctrination, they’re ready for service as the Navy’s newest Blue Jackets.
It was the middle of June, 1986. I had just arrived to RTC Great Lakes for basic training. I was anxious and nervous; excited, yet uncertain. So many thoughts were swirling in my mind. After all, it’s a big step for a 17-year-old to take; exiting the safe bounds of home and community into the rigid uniformity and discipline of a military institution.
Navy boot camp is a basic naval orientation designed to transform men and women into smartly disciplined, physically fit, basically trained sailors.[ii] As soon as one arrives, they are integrated into a diverse group of individuals with whom they will eat, sleep, learn, grow and support as a team until graduation day. Teamwork is the foremost skill developed during these eight trying weeks. The recruit company’s chain of command is quickly established, and the ship is underway. Boot camp provides the opportunity to develop and refine leadership skills that will become vital in the fleet.
Although I felt ready to get it all started, I had to wait a few more days before starting my eight weeks of training; something about making sure I was healthy and fit for the rigors of Navy training. For the first few days after arriving, we marching back and forth from RTC to Main Side for medical and administrative in-processing. As I recall, it was more like determining how many holes I can withstand being punctured into my arm and buttocks. It was also when I received my initial issuance of uniforms, and a clean-shaved head. This week is known as Processing Week. We called them P-Days; days that didn’t count towards the eight weeks of training. Time just seemed to stop.
It rained during those first few days. It seemed like the rain would never end. Cold. Damp. Dreary. Miserable. Amidst the proverbial ‘hurry-up and wait,’ I was eager for the ‘hurry-up’ part to begin. These early days at boot camp have become some of the more memorable days in my life. I look back on them fondly. They were, after all, the days that began to set the foundation for the rest of my life and career.
Today, August 22, marks the 30th anniversary of my graduation from boot camp. I often reflect on those days, those experiences, those friends (shipmates). I recall the challenges that strengthened me physically and mentally; trials that built character within me. I cherish the rewards of achievement and success that came from every push-up, inspection and exam. Although there were those times where it didn’t seem possible to finish, everything somehow came together. Somehow our recruit company came together. And, on August 22, 1986, we assembled to celebrate our collective accomplishments in our pass-in-review ceremony at graduation.
In those short eight weeks, some of the most valuable traits and qualities were instilled in me. Honor, courage, and commitment, the core values of the United States Navy, were the bedrock principles of my training.
The Core Values of the United States Navy
Honor: When we say “bear true faith and allegiance,” we are promising to:
- Conduct ourselves in the highest ethical manner in all relationships
- Deal honestly and truthfully with others
- Make honest recommendations and accept those junior to us
- Encourage new ideas and deliver the bad news, even when it is unpopular
- Abide by an uncompromising code of integrity, taking responsibility for our actions and keeping our word
- Fulfill or exceed our legal and ethical responsibilities in our public and personal lives 24 hours a day
- Be mindful of the privilege to serve our fellow Americans
Courage: When we say “support and defend,” we are promising to:
- Meet the demands of our profession and the mission when it is hazardous, demanding or otherwise difficult
- Make decisions in the best interest of the Navy and the nation, without regard to personal consequences
- Meet all challenges while adhering to a higher standard of personal conduct and decency
- Be loyal to our nation, ensuring the resources entrusted to us are used in an honest, careful and efficient way
- Have the moral and mental strength to do what is right, even in the face of personal or professional adversity
Commitment: When we say “obey the orders,” we are promising to:
- Demand respect up and down the chain of command
- Care for the safety, professional, personal, and spiritual well-being of the people entrusted to us
- Show respect toward all people without regard to race, religion or gender
- Treat each individual with human dignity
- Be committed to positive change and constant improvement
- Exhibit the highest degree of moral character, technical excellence, quality, and competence in what we have been trained to do
- Work together as a team to improve the quality of our work, our people, andourselves[iii]
The Navy’s core values became the ingredients that transformed me into a sailor, and ultimately the cornerstones of my life and career. My boot camp and Navy experience culminated in my having the following three valuable attributes:
- Highly motivated to overcome all challenges; having the self-discipline to achieve all tasks completely and successfully.
- Attention to detail, and being detail-oriented. Following direction and learning to listen, while having situational awareness at all times.
- Pride and professionalism. To always showcase respect for people and resources. To carry myself with honor, and to have integrity in all that I do. And, to always be committed to the team, organization and community I belong.
August 22 is a very important date in my life. Similar to my birthday, it signifies the day that officially began my Navy career. It is a day that I am extremely proud of, and I wanted to share it with you.
[iii] “Navy Boot Camp Timeline At a Glance.” Military.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Aug. 2016. http://www.military.com/join-armed-forces/navy-boot-camp-schedule.html